Land Conservation Can Reduce Impact from Destructive Storms

by John Gebhards

The increase of extreme weather events has become a regular occurrence in the Hudson Valley and throughout the northeast. This results in episodes of moderate to severe flooding that threatens local economies, agriculture, infrastructure and nearly all facets of everyday life. By employing land conservation practices to improve flood mitigation and climate resiliency, municipalities and landowners can take cost-effective measures to reduce some of these risks.

Forested floodplains, wetlands, and stream banks in flood-prone areas should be protected, or restored, to ensure they are properly absorbing flood water and reducing the rate of streamflow. This protection can be accomplished through provisions set forth in conservation easements agreed upon by both the landowner and a qualified entity, such as a land trust. If these natural stream flow controls have been degraded or altered in the past, it would also be prudent for municipalities to consider outright purchases of land to restore them to their natural, most-effective state.

According to a report by the Open Space Institute, “The Role of Land Protection in Mitigating Freshwater Flooding Hazard: Strategies to Increase Land Trust Engagement,” land conservation on average has a return of $5 in reduced flood impacts for every dollar invested. However, securing funding for these projects continues to be a major obstacle. NYS Senate bill S7041 and Assembly bill A7632 proposes legislation that would enact the “Community Preservation Act” on a statewide level. Passage of these bills would equip municipalities with perhaps their single greatest tool for permanently protecting land for the purpose of climate mitigation and resilience.

Currently, there are federal grants that municipalities should consider pursuing in order to fund these vital initiatives, including: FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation, Flood Mitigation, and Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities grants. The USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the N.Y.S. Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) also have several grant opportunities.

For those interested in learning more about these grants, you can join the virtual panel discussion next month hosted by the Orange County Land Trust and Cornell Cooperative Extension of Orange County about these pressing climate issues and grant opportunities. “Weathering the Storm- A Roundtable Discussion on Flood Mitigation and Resilience in Orange County” will take place on Thursday, March 3rd from 6-8 pm. You can visit www.oclt.org to register or learn more about this event.

John Gebhards

John Gebhards is a resident of the Town of Newburgh. He is Executive Director of the Quassaick Creek Watershed Alliance, a past Executive Director of the Orange County Land Trust, and past Chairperson of the Ramapo-Catskill Sierra Clubs.

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